Globally, the low/no alcohol wine category has struggled to enjoy the same levels of mass market approval as in neighboring low/no beer and spirits categories, with the process to create a successful lower alcohol wine being much harder than in other drinks.
But with consumers increasingly seeking to moderate their alcohol intake, the Australian wine sector believes that - in the same way it's made a success in new world wines - it can be a pioneer in the low/no wine industry.
This starts with growing demand for low/no alcohol alternatives. Australia is expected to see double digit volume compound annual growth rates for low/no products in 2022-26, according to IWSR.
Global growth is expected to come in at around 7% CAGR over this period.
Australian Vintage is of the largest wine producers in Australia which crushes approximately 7% of total Australian annual production.
It considers itself as a pioneer in low/no wine production: with such wines already accounting for around 10% of sales.
"We have been working on our NoLo program for decades and we recently reinforced our position as leaders in the space after a successful 2023 IWSC awards," the company's chief winemaker Jamie Saint told us (Nine Australian Vintage wines received 91+ points including Tempus Two Pinot Noir which was awarded the Lighter Alcohol Trophy for 2023, the top prize in its category.)
"There is a positive momentum for lower and no-alcohol wine with volume growth forecasted to continue worldwide which is off the back of global trends of around half of wine drinkers actively limiting their alcohol intake."
Australian Vintage's McGuigan Zero is the #1 still non-alcoholic wine range in Australia & the UK. A new mid-strength wine, McGuigan Black Label Mid, contains 20% less calories and alcohol than its full-strength counterpart.
Similarly, the Tempus Two Zero range is based on the premise that it 'looks like wine, tastes like wine, is wine, but with less than 0.5% alcohol', while the 6.8% Lighten Up range is 'full in flavour and lighter in calories.'
The company recently debuted zero-alcohol brand Not Guilty in the UK, which will launch in Australia next month.
Australian Vintage recently invested in a second spinning cone column (this tech gently removes alcohol at low temperatures to preserve wine’s delicate varietal characteristics).
One factor that sets Australia up for success is its attitude: while other wine producing nations may be focused on tradition, Australia's approach to wine has always been much more progressive.
"Australia has a clear opportunity to lead the world in NoLo wine research and development, as it has done in other areas of viticulture and oenology," said Saint.
"The Australian wine industry is progressive, innovative, and not afraid to push boundaries and bring new wine styles to the world. Australia has made great progress in the NoLo category globally and is currently well represented."
Collaboration sets out to make wines the best possible
Now, a research grant of nearly $3m AUD ($2m USD) from the federal government, announced in July, will spur forward a project led by Australian Vintage Ltd with the remit of developing wines that have lower alcohol and calories than traditional styles.
With no clearly defined categories for low and mid alcohol wine, Australian Vintage considers a lower alcohol wine as a reduction on ‘full strength’ (generally accepted as normal alcohol level) that is 10% or lower in alcohol by volume.
A mid-alcohol wine is considered as one with between 5% to 10% alcohol by volume.
Non-alcoholic wine is considered wine with less than 0.5% alcohol by volume
The partners include the University of Adelaide, The Australian Wine Research Institute, Treasury Wine Estates, FlavourTech, DrinkWise, Tarac, S. Smith and Son, Danstar Ferment, Mauri Yeast Australia and Chr. Hansen.
The research grant from the Federal Government's Cooperative Research Centres Projects scheme is worth $2,997,599; along with a partner contribution to the value of $3,706,753 (in cash and in-kind).
The funds will help address one of the biggest challenges for low/no wine development: making the finished product as close to a wine at full-strength as possible.
"By removing alcohol from wine, the sensory makeup of the wine changes because alcohol is such an important contributor to the character of a wine," said Saint.
"This CRC-P [federal research grant] will leverage the resources and expertise of a consortium of industry stakeholders and dedicated researchers to address key low/no alcohol winemaking challenges: whilst focusing on the flavour and mouthfeel development of NoLo products.
"The other key areas of research will be microbial stability and shelf-life, and the category and consumer behaviour including the ultimate image of NoLo wine."